May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it had me reflect on the first time my mental health was challenged. Growing up in one of the most conservative areas of the U.S. was difficult for a brown kid coming to terms with his sexuality. I knew that I was different from a young age; I hid these differences until I was 20 years old.
Before I came out as gay, first to my best friend and then to my parents, I started having panic attacks. One day, I had a terrible episode during a drive with my best friend. I immediately asked him to pull the car over and found myself in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant, gasping for air. I washed my face, stared into the mirror, and didn’t know who I was nor what I was becoming. My heart was telling me to stop hiding who I was, but my mind wasn’t there yet. I told my parents that I wanted to drop out of college and locked myself in my room that afternoon. Shocked and confused, they asked that I see a doctor about my anxiety and not make any rash decisions until then.
A positive of growing up in a small town is that the doctor that I saw as an adult is the same one who delivered me as a newborn. Knowing my entire medical history for the first two decades of my life, my doctor knew that I wasn’t myself. We talked through the panic attacks and what was happening. He read between the lines and walked me through his recommended next steps for treating my anxiety. I’ll never forget wiping away my tears, listening intently as he talked about the grey clouds parting (clouds that I knew all too well) and reassuring me that I need to be ready to embrace the sunshine and return to the honest, happy person I used to be. I find it ironic yet incredibly comforting that one of the first humans to hold me when I entered this world also guided me to a place where I accepted my perfectly imperfect self.
Steps to improve mental health
Since coming out, I routinely check on my mental health, whether on my own, with my husband, or with the support of a therapist. I’m proud to say that I found my last therapist through our very own Employee Assistance Program. One of my most memorable interactions with my therapist was during the early part of the pandemic. He gave me excellent practices, which I feel still apply to many of our circumstances today.
Make time for you
Whether it’s a minute of meditation or 30 minutes of yoga, it’s important to take the time to recharge and take care of both your physical and emotional self.
Get out and walk
My husband and I don’t take as many walks as we used to (and we no longer call them COVID walks as we did early in the pandemic), but getting fresh air was a lifesaver while living through a pandemic lockdown. Fresh air, experiencing nature, and light exercise can feed your soul. Get out there! Bonus: we met many neighbors during these walks that we might have not otherwise met.
Talk to coworkers
It’s been wonderful seeing photos of our office reopening in different parts of the world and seeing colleagues connect and reconnect. Whether you are in the office full-time, part-time (like me), or fully remote, it’s important to keep this momentum going. Make time for lunches, happy hours, or coffee breaks (whether in person, Zoom, or a hybrid of both).
Plan a trip
You know it’s time for a vacation when you start looking like the unenthused photo on your driving license. Many of us cancelled and postponed milestone celebrations in the past two years. Just the planning of a vacation can ease your worries and free up your mind to dream about a particular destination close to your heart. Some cannot go on a trip, but perhaps working with what is possible – such as a small change in your physical surroundings or routine, doing what makes you happy – could have the same rejuvenating effect.
It is nice to work for a company that values mental health and offers opportunities to support it. In line with the advice I practice, we offered a Zumba class to employees on Cinco de Mayo in partnership with WONDER (Women Outreach & Development Resources) and HOLA (Hispanic/Latino Outreach, Leadership & Advancement) Communities (Employee Resource Groups) earlier this month. We were thrilled with the participation, because it allowed employees an opportunity to step away from their desks and recharge physically as well as mentally.
As a Global Wellness lead, the mental health of our employees is always at the forefront of my mind. Whether using one of the best practices above or another method, be sure to take time out to care for your mental health this month and every month.
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